Wednesday, June 23, 2010

How Necessary are Journalists?

In the wake of the 2008 election, in which we saw a candidate from a major party who refused to give a press conference during the entire course of her candidacy, who gave two interviews to establishment TV news outlets (and failed miserably), and yet who commanded millions of voters and is now the de-facto leader of her party, we now see a candidate for Senate in Nevada who refuses to give interviews (other than to friendly Fox News or conservative talk radio outlets where she will not have to answer questions about her controversial positions), and the local Nevada media literally begging her to sit for an interview. It makes me wonder if the Palin legacy was to render the press completely irrelevant.

Palin may be an incurious farce of a politician, a poor excuse for a leader, and a catty, sniping little trailer-park harpie, but she's so blissfully unaware of all of that that she has the media falling all over themselves to accommodate her. That she will be a serious contender for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination is a given, but if that's the case, what role will the press play a year from now when candidates today are modeling her now, steadfastly refusing to give interviews to the press and using only "safe" havens to get out their messages? If these press-averse candidates find themselves winning elections this year, this will embolden candidates on both sides of the aisle to shun the press for the Greta Van Susterens, Rachel Maddows, and Keith Olbermanns of the media world to launch campaigns, answer softball questions, and craft their messages without being hounded and lambasted by pesky reporters. It's not like bloggers have nearly the same level of influence as reporters, or nearly the reach despite having millions of page views per month (sorry, Andrew).

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Ass-munch Quote of the Day

American Family Association stooge Bryan Fischer uses the bible to say why a hiker's death by a grizzly bear was divine retribution:
The grizzly is a predator, a fierce, savage unstoppable killing machine. ... Because these researchers were intent on studying the grizzly rather than killing him to protect innocent human life, a husband, father and grandfather is dead today. This was an utterly unnecessary death which could have happened only because our culture has jettisoned a biblical view of the relative value of human life compared to animal life. Because this animal was given a nap instead of a bullet, a human being is dead, and a savage animal is alive, on the prowl, and ready to kill again.

So, because some researchers studying the grizzly did not kill him, but rather tranquilized him, which left him able to wake up and maul the hiker to death, it's a manifestation of Leviticus 26.

What's to know about grizzly bears other than that they're ferocious and easily capable of killing men?

What a dick.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Much Ado

The Tea Party movement is allowed to voice its (almost entirely) angry opinion about the state of American politics, our society, and our morals, and push for incumbents right and left to be sent packing in 2010 and beyond. But, writes Republican ex-pat David Frum:

It's difficult for a political party to think strategically after a political defeat as severe as 2008's. But the Tea Party elevated the inability to think strategically into a fundamental conservative principle. Its militants denounce those Republicans who have resisted the movement as ideological traitors: "Republicans in name only" or even (charmingly) as "Vichy Republicans". In fact, the unthinking rejectionism of the Tea Party has strengthened Obama's political position. Now it threatens to deplete Republican strength in Congress, losing races that could have been won.

David Cameron's Conservatism responds to local British conditions. It's not an export product. But there is at least one big lesson that Americans could learn from him when the Tea Party finally ends: yes, a party must champion the values of the voters it already has. But it must also speak to the voters it still needs to win.

And yes, the Tea Party needs moderates and centrists (also called "independents") to win. They are operating in a coccoon right now, analogous to the so-called real estate bubble that sent the market crashing down nearly three years ago. All they hear (all they want to hear) are those who agree with them. They don't want reasoned debate because, after all, who wants to argue with an angry lunatic? What kind of meaningful debate can be had? It's not like their ideas have all that much traction. And the system is set up to favor incumbents anyway. Nevada's Senate race to oust Harry Reid (which is the GOP's Waterloo this year if Reid succeeds) is led by Sharron Angle, who advocates for the dismantling of Social Security and Medicare, and who has advocated for armed insurrection against the government. As Frum writes, she is being held back from talking to the press by GOP leadership until she is "ready," but really it's because she's even more apt to commit an excruciating gaffe than Joe Biden, who at least sounds like a leader.

The mid-term elections will render the Tea Party a non-story -- except, of course, to the Tea Partiers who will stubbornly refuse to give up the fight, moderate their anger, or engage in thoughtful discussion of the issues that really matter. In the end, their fight will boil down to trying to get rid of the dark-skinned president who doesn't look like them, but in reality has been working to help them financially for a year and a half.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Fourth Estate and Accountability

Glenn Greenwald has a great piece that sort of wraps up the whole debate that's been out there in the blogosphere lately, about a party thrown by the Democratic National Committee that hosted a bunch of journalists, where much fun and mayhem ensued. Ed Henry, who is CNN's senior White House correspondent, has been very public about how much he enjoyed getting shot at with a Super-Soaker by Rahm Emanuel. I won't do any independent linking to stories, as Glenn's piece does a great job of that.

Greenwald is, of course, disgusted by this display of fraternization between the press and the White House. His money quote:
With some accidental exceptions, the corporations which own these media outlets don't choose people for these positions who want to or who will perform these accountability functions. They choose the ones who have no interest in doing so, no ability to do so, and who simply won't -- and thus don't. [NBC's Meet the Press host David] Gregory and Henry don't succeed in their corporations despite their failure to do their jobs of holding government officials accountable; they succeed because they do their job, which doesn't include that function.
Ouch. What I really don't understand is how prominent journalists forget everything they were ever taught when first learning their trade.

When I was a reporter at the UCLA Daily Bruin, I covered a body called The Communications Board. This body oversaw all the student-run media on campus, and was comprised of students, faculty, and university administration personnel. One night, after a meeting of the Board that went fairly late such that the local buses were no longer running, I was offered and accepted a ride to my car by a student member of the board, who was also driving home another student member. The three of us knew each other outside of our respective jobs, but had not been friendly with each other before any of us had found ourselves in a journalist/subject relationship. Still, I thought nothing of sitting in his back seat for 10 minutes rather than walking 45 minutes after midnight to my car, which was parked two miles off campus (I didn't have a campus parking permit and had to take the bus in).

The next day, while at the Bruin office working on my story, I told my editor how the meeting had gone late and that the board member was nice enough to drive me to my car. She very clearly admonished me for doing so, saying that it was wrong for a reporter and the subject of his reporting to be social with each other, as that might influence the objectivity of the story. In fact, the issue was elevated all the way to the editorial board and the paper's faculty advisor, and it was determined that I could no longer work that beat; I was immediately reassigned. At first I was pretty astonished and a little disappointed, mostly because my new beat was less eventful. But in subsequent conversations with the faculty advisor I came to understand that journalists must preserve that separation if they are ever going to get the real story. If there is fraternization -- "getting to know [each other] as people," as it were -- then when a crucial story comes about, a journalist is now compromised because, having friendly relations with his subject, he might be tempted to soften his approach, protect his subject, and not ask the tough questions. It's why judges recuse themselves from cases where there might be a conflict of interest between them and the subject of the case.

Now, with prominent media folks becoming celebrities with entertainment value (e.g., Wolf Blitzer, David Greene, Brit Hume, Bob Woodward), forgoing that status in pursuit of a good story is a very rare thing indeed. Now, they get to hobnob with the political, entertainment, and business elites they cover, and think nothing of the potential for a compromised level of objectivity.

For more, read the exchange between David Greene and White House adviser David Axelrod later in Greenwald's piece. Greene states that the White House and British Petroleum are "partners" in cleaning up the Gulf oil spill, and asks Axelrod if the White House trusts BP's CEO, Tony Hayward. Axelrod, clearly frustrated with the question, categorically states that there is no partnership and that the White House's role is to hold BP accountable for cleaning up the spill, and that trust, or the character of the CEO, is essentially irrelevant. Perfect illustration of my point above.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Delicious Irony, Folks

From I am trying to conceal my glee about Monday night's destruction by lightning of a six-story styrofoam and fiberglass statue of Jesus that was affectionately called "Touchdown Jesus."

I'm going to fail, aren't I?

An act of God destroys this perversion, this ├╝ber-kitsch, this pseudo-tribute to the spiritual head of Christianity. Delicious.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Populism Alert

Sullivan piggy-backs onto Radley Balko's piece about Kansas gubernatorial candidate (and former senator) Sam Brownback, who has proposed an "Office of the Repealer," a government agency tasked with the responsibility for seeking out bad or repetitive laws, wasteful programs, and archaic state agencies for elimination.

In principle, the idea of creating an office in federal or state government that weeds out wasteful spending is a solid proposal, one that any sensible person could and should support. For a second there, even I was intrigued.

And then I remembered: this is proposed by Sam Brownback, former Republican presidential candidate, rabid Christianist, and textbook Kansan. He's the guy that Thomas Frank eviscerated in his fantastic book, What's the Matter with Kansas?. Oh, yeah, that guy. Now, while Brownback is on record as supporting a flat tax "experiment" in Washington, DC, he's a staunch GOP line-toer. There isn't a moderate proposal he's met yet that he couldn't oppose. So why in the world would anyone trust this guy?

Coming from Brownback, "wasteful government spending" is code for things like spending on liberal ideas, like support for the arts and all manner of social services. So, consider that this office would be set up under a Republican administration. The first targets would be the low-hanging fruit like the National Endowment for the Arts, various federal programs providing grants for scientific research, and federal gas taxes. Next would be things like the Departments of Education, Health and Human Services, and Energy, all targets of Republican and Libertarian idealists who believe should be under state authority. In fact, this would be an agency which would have a very difficult time unemploying themselves, constantly looking for new ways to cut government. Watch for guys like Grover Norquist to be appointed to the advisory board, who would like to drown government in the bathtub.

Nope! While this may be a good idea on paper, in practice it would be another disaster, mismanaged just like nearly everything else the government runs, and highly politicized. Just another way for the president in power to usurp budgetary authority from Congress.

The answer here, my friends, is in electing an empowered Congress who truly understands why they are there. Not only as a check/balance on the president and the judiciary, but as fiduciaries of the national wallet. Only then will Americans actually get something of value when they vote.

Deconstructing Sully

I know I link to Andrew Sullivan a lot in this blog. Mostly, it's because I find myself on the same page with a true conservative a lot of the time. Funny that a dyed-in-the-wool lib like me finds so much to like in a conservative. It is an indication of just how far to the right people who call themselves conservative have gone when I'm probably to the right of most liberals.

This online debate between The New Republic's Jonathan Chait and Sullivan is highlighted today in Andrew's blog. I link to it because much is clear in Andrew's argument: he sees Israel as the solution to the problem. There is some truth to that; as the player with pretty much all the power, plus all the power of the U.S., Israel can act, defend itself, and gain some much-needed political capital among nations at the same time (although it can be debated just how much Israel can gain from nations in Europe and elsewhere that do not favor Israel no matter the circumstances).

Here's where Sullivan loses me:
I favor action on the settlements because that alone is currently practical, and could help shift that dynamic into a virtuous cycle with no cost whatever to Israeli security.

I do see where the complete halting of new settlements in the West Bank is more practical than, say, Arab concession of Israel's right to exist or capitulation on their "right of return" demand. But the latter half of that sentence is utter bullshit: as Israel exists in a region where several governments, and not a few people, want to see the country cease to exist, Israel's decision to halt settlement construction will be propagandized into a victory for Arabs and for Muslims, and a major blow to both Israel and the United States (which the Republicans would then spin into a reason for new leadership in the U.S.). Such a political victory will serve to undermine Israel's security as it then searches for leadership that can navigate the waters of peaceful coexistence with its neighbors (which has yet to be fully tested since 1948).

Sullivan also admits that Chait can win this debate if he were to say what he'd like the Obama administration to do now. But the administration has been very clear since last year: halt settlements. He's right that Obama has actually given Israel a way out of this mess, but Israel is wagering that Obama will not last politically and that a friendlier, Republican administration will come in and publicly rebuke all critics of Israel as critics of the U.S., and then look the other way as Israel prepares for armed conflict with Iran over nuclear arms. But to say that Israel's action on settlements is the most practical starting point is to dismiss Palestinian and Arab attitude about Israel's existence. You see, the easy thing for Israel to do is defend itself against terrorist acts -- the Gaza blockade, the West Bank security wall, increased military presence all over the country. The much harder part has been appealing to people who believe Israel has no place in that part of the world (or who believe Jews should be exterminated).

I readily admit that Israel's actions of late (flotilla, assassination in Dubai, snubbing of VP Biden while he was visiting) seriously damage its already damaged reputation in the U.S. and in the world. Israel's leadership is taking a wild chance that Obama will not be re-elected, since while many American Jews love Israel, they also love Obama in overwhelmingly large numbers (and that's not changing for most of them). But I maintain that Israel cannot and should not act unilaterally to move the process forward. Ariel Sharon tried to do that in Gaza and it backfired badly. Any action Israel takes must absolutely coincide with Palestinian and Arab action to concede some serious points: Israel's right to exist as a Jewish/Zionist state, a halt to terrorist violence, and abandoning the right of return. Israeli's ain't gonna give up their homes so that displaced Arabs can move back in.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Joke of the Day

From my friend Byron:
A woman in a hot air balloon realized she was lost. She lowered her altitude and spotted a man in a boat below. She shouted to him, "Excuse me, can you help me? I promised a friend I would meet him an hour ago, but I don't know where I am."

The man consulted his portable GPS and replied, "You're in a hot air balloon, approximately 30 feet above ground elevation of 2,346 feet above sea level. You are at 31 degrees, 14.97 minutes north latitude and 100 degrees, 49.09 minutes west longitude.

"She rolled her eyes and said, "You must be an Obama Democrat."

"I am," replied the man. "How did you know?"

"Well," answered the balloonist, "everything you told me is technically correct. But I have no idea what to do with your information, and I'm still lost. Frankly, you've not been much help to me."

The man smiled and responded, "You must be a Republican."

"I am," replied the balloonist. "How did you know?"

"Well," said the man, "you don't know where you are or where you are going. You've risen to where you are due to a large quantity of hot air. You made a promise you have no idea how to keep, and you expect me to solve your problem. You're in exactly the same position you were in before we met, but somehow, now it's my fault."

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

"Israel is in real danger of destruction"

Gadi Taub writes at The National Review:

Settlements, clearly, are the keys to all this. Further settlement is what energizes the campaign to delegitimize Israel. And, for the first time since its war of independence, Israel is in real danger of destruction. Zionism’s success depended, as Theodore Herzl understood, on international recognition. It will not survive without it. If Israel clings to its settlement policy, it will sink along with its West Bank occupation.

Zionism rested its moral claims on the right of all peoples to self-determination. Settlement and occupation run against its grain, and this is why they undermine international support for Israel. Had Netanyahu realized this—as Peres, Rabin, Sharon, Olmert, and Livni have before him—he would not have appointed a foreign minister who is himself a settler; he would not have rested his coalition on ultra-orthodox fanatics and modern orthodox messianics; he would have not entangled himself in a senseless quarrel with Israel’s best friends over enlarging the settlements. Instead, he would have taken the lead in putting an end to the occupation, with or without Palestinian consent. But he didn't.

Gadi Taub is an assistant professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. His book The Settlers and the Struggle over the Meaning of Zionism is forthcoming this fall from Yale University Press.

Netanyahu has thrown Israel's lot in with the American Cheneyites and Palinites who swear allegiance to AIPAC, along with the bloc of voters who he believes will return Republicans to power. According to one blogger I read recently, Israel's government is waiting for President Palin to take over the reins. If this is even remotely true, then my beloved Eretz Yisrael faces an existential crisis of unprecedented proportions.

Friday, June 4, 2010

A Bit on the Candid Side, No?

Via Sullivan, check out this piece by Andrew Exum about a particular conversation he had with a retired senior military officer from Israel. Money quote:

At the end of the conversation, though, this retired officer took my hand, squeezed it hard, and said, "Andrew, just remember one thing: the Muslims are like shit. They stink, and there are plenty of them for all of us."... Could I imagine a senior U.S. military officer, post-Iraq, saying something like that to a guy with a notebook at the end of a formal interview? I could not.

Well, I don't know if I could imagine such things coming out of a senior officer's mouth, but in my brief associations with the U.S. military I heard plenty. While travelling in Egypt's Sinai towards Sharm-el-Sheikh with some American enlisted men (including a staff sergeant) in 1994, I remember how the soldiers were always polite to the Egyptian soldiers who manned checkpoints or the civilians who tried to talk to them, but once the car windows were closed and we were on our way again, it was clear that these guys had nothing but contempt for their hosts. I don't remember the exact words, but I remember the sentiment: "If you want to know why Egypt is such a chaotic, overcrowded, filthy place, you just need to look at these people and it will be perfectly clear."

In reading more deeply into Exum's piece, however, reveals this juicy conclusion:

What is so shocking about this most recent fiasco, though, is not just the lack of any coherent strategy. (If you're trying to ensure Iran does not become nuclear-armed, might you not want to ensure strong relations with the United States and other key allies -- Europe, Turkey -- in pursuit of that goal? Wouldn't you avoid anything that got in the way of that existential challenge?) What is most shocking is the tactical and operational incompetence of the Israelis. Check out the comments in this post and read the reactions -- many of them from U.S. and allied officers, who make up a large portion of this blog's readership -- chuckling at the expense of the Israelis. When did the IDF -- the elite units in the IDF, even -- become such a laughingstock?

I'll be happy when this storyline fades to the background, but I do not think the dynamic [New Yorker writer George] Packer describes -- the new way in which the U.S. military views its Israeli peers -- will. Your guess is as good as mine as to how that might affect U.S. strategy and operations in the region. But when even Meir Dagan starts wondering if Israeli and U.S. interests and attitudes are divergent, we have a crisis in the relationship. And I think most Israelis would concede it matters a lot more for them than it does for us.

My emphasis. This is a problem for Israel. And, as a Jew, it's easy to lay the responsibility for the success of the relationship at Obama's feet and say that it's up the the U.S. to accept Israel's behavior without comment and let anything they do in defense of their country slide. I mean, after all, we have let admitted war criminals in the United States government who devised, authorized, and implemented a torture regime, in violation of national and international law, escape any sort of accountability or justice. But -- and this is a big but -- Israel is not the U.S., and the U.S. is not Israel. Their interests are deeply connected to ours, but we cannot assume that they can "enjoy" the same blindness to criminal acts that the current administration has regarding the Bush/Cheney administration.

Israel needs to investigate -- at the very least -- the events surrounding the raid on the flotilla and make a good faith effort to report them accurately. Very strategic relationships are at stake (Turkey, the U.S.). Or maybe Israel really does want to go it alone and thumb its nose at the whole world. Who knows?

Hypocrisy 101, Courtesy Glenn Beck/Fox News

If anyone had any doubt that Glenn Beck and Fox News are the biggest frauds in the "journalism" trade, this story ought to erase it.

Seems while Glenn Beck was busy ranting that a Saudi prince, Alwaleed bin Talal al-Saud, who was the guy who tried to give then-mayor Giuliani a $10 million in the wake of the 9/11 attacks only to be told to keep his money, he failed to mention that this prince is the largest shareholder in News Corporation, his employer, other than the Murdoch family. So while he implores his viewers not to accept any offering of money from the prince, part of his livelihood, depends on the investment in his employer by this prince. All without the slightest hint of irony.

Click on the link above to view the video clip.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Cutest Buddy Pic Ever

National Geographic Channel features a bro-mance between a young orangutan and a dog. Show this to your kids.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Hard, Awful Truth

After all the hand-wringing is over, after all the various pundits the world over have weighed in, and after the official NATO investigation into the Israeli raid on the Gaza flotilla is completed, nothing will happen. Jim Henley:

[T]he raid is the latest case of Israel choosing militarism over liberalism, which Beinart identifies as the core issue. But the “counterproductivity critique” isn’t just a failure of nerve. It’s also unpersuasive.

Israel not only no longer faces any enemies who pose an existential threat, it doesn’t even have enemies who can thwart any strongly held Israeli policy aim. No state is going to go to war to “destroy Israel.” I doubt any state particularly wants to. Certainly no state that might want to can do so. But beyond that, no state is going to go to war on behalf of the Palestinians and the Palestinians lack the power to launch an effective war on their own behalf.

Every time Israel takes major, disproportionate action, the “counterproductivity corps” tells us that very soon now Israel’s high-handedness will cost it essential allies, alienate the United States and set the country on the road to ruin. Every time, the furor passes. In particular, the United States has attempted no material rebuke of Israel since the administration of Bush the Elder, and these days barely bothers with rhetorical rebukes....

This is not Israel “shooting itself in the foot.” This is Israel winning. Be for that or against it, but at least recognize it.

This is why the comparisons floating out there between Israel and North Korea leave me with a sinking feeling in my gut. Substitute North Korea for Israel, and North Koreans for Palestinians, and you basically can make the same argument. Does Israel really want to be seen as a pariah state? Is the whole pattern of intransigence and neoconservative dick-swinging some weird strategy by U.S. and Israeli hawks to push Obama to repudiate Israel so that they can swing the powerful Jewish vote mainly to the Republicans in 2012? Risky move if that's true, because I think there are a lot of American Jews who might not support Israel if Obama levels any sort of punitive action against Israel. Or is this some way that Israel now justifies war with Iran? Obama's screwed either way. Joe Klein:
First reaction: This is an insane use of disproportionate force. It is a product of the right-wing radicalization of the Israeli government, an extremism that Peter Beinart wrote about in his recent, much debated New York Review of Books article. And it will further isolate Israel from the rest of the world. The US will be asked to condemn this behavior in the inevitable Security Council resolution--if Obama doesn't veto the resolution, there will be hell to pay among the Israelophilic leaders of the American Jewish Community. If he does veto the resolution, his outreach to the Islamic world is kaput. If he abstains, everyone is offended.

Klein's update:
Right on schedule, the Likudnik Israel-firsters over at Commentary throw down
gauntlet. It's up to "liberal zionists"--that is, people who believe in Israel but not in Likud's neo-imperialist policies--to "choose" between Israel or Hamas. Sorry, but it's a false choice...and I'm certainly not going to submit to some juvenile ultimatum thrown down by right-wing extremists whose knee-jerk support of Netanyahu's sado-masochistic coalition is hurting Israel grievously. I understand Israel's position on the Gaza blockade, though not its crazed macho military nonsense against the flotilla. I believe it's up to Hamas to initiate negotiations that will lead to the lifting of the blockade. But I also believe that Likudnik policies created Hamas just as surely as the disastrous 1982 Likudnik invasion of Lebanon created Hizballah.

Again, nothing will come of this whole incident -- Israel will not cede any land, Hamas, after basking in the glory of the immediate condemnation of Israel, will gain no power from anyone, and will not inject any significant terrorist activities anywhere. Al Qaeda will act the same as it did before this incident, and Iran will remain stubbornly immobile in its stare-down with the rest of the world.